Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Secret Combinations (Historical Examples)

The Book of Mormon describes how the people of Lehi and the Jaredites were plagued by secret combinations to murder and get gain. Wicked and ambitious individuals and groups employed assassination and other means to gain political power and influence (Helaman 1:9-12; 2:3-5; 6:15-30; 3 Nephi 6:27-30; 7:1; Ether 8:10-18; 9:5-6). Moroni and other prophets warn that these practices, if they remain unchecked, and are allowed to spread throughout the society lead to social chaos and eventual destruction, as in the case of the Jaredites and people of Lehi (Helaman 2:13; Ether 8:21-22). They, we are told rather common anciently as well as in our day, and "they are had among all people, and they are had among the Lamanites" (Ether 8:20). Here are two examples from the Pre-Columbian history of Mexico.

The first comes from Diego Duran, The History of the Indies of New Spain, Translated by Doris Heyden (Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994), 69.

Tezozomoc of Azcapotzalco was dead and the Tepanecs, even more determined to carry out their intentions, agreed among themselves to kill King Chimalpopoca by treachery, thereby facilitating the annihilation of the Mexican nation. They sealed this conspiracy by solemnly vowing to carry out this evil plan. At night, when all was silent, they secretly sent men to Mexico-Tenochtitlan, where the murderers entered the palace while the guards, careless, were asleep. Finding the ruler unprepared, they slew him and his son Teuctleuac, who was sleeping beside him.

The second example comes from the Tlaxcaltecan chronicle the Anonimo Mexicano, one of the rare non-Mexica accounts of ancient Mexican history (Richley Crapo and Bonnie Glass-Coffin, eds., Anonimo Mexicano. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2005, 50-53). Chapter 9 of the chronicle tells how an ambitious noble named Tlacomihua, unhappy with his lot as a mere nobleman, conspired to obtain power and the kingship

He began by shrewdly flattering some of his fellow nobles and talking down the king.

Thus already he was beginning to advise the men and vassals of his vicinity. Thus the lord warned them and said that he [the king] was already very great. Thus he did not still take care of them well as he had done at first. He just talked fast. He no longer held these nobles in high esteem, as a good father who loves them. Tlacomihua reported all this. Thus he remembered whichever men of the city were dissatisfied concerning their revered lord ruler. This he gathered them together on his property, where he made this speech to them. Still when night fell, he finished this. Sighing thus, he spoke evil against their lord (50-51).

Without explicitly calling for the king’s assassination, the shrewd operator Tlacomihua’s implied support and persuaded his fellows to commit the crime.

He moved their will against the king, towards his evil intention, so they would kill their sovereign lord. And then the vassals agreed thus to kill him. He would not make known to them his intent. These nobles went with him to his palace. They went as if to be civil. Raising a shout, they attacked. He was not prepared. Thus secretly they killed him. Thus when they left there, their secret deed would not be known. They crossed over to the homes of their poor sovereign lord’s kinsmen. And however many were involved killed the sons, nephews, kin, and all his close kin with their arrows, so that not one of his lineage would remain. . . . it was in this way that this much-loved sovereign lord died, who was greatly loved and respected. Thus was he just to everyone of his vassals (51).

In the aftermath following the murder of the king the people were unwilling to punish the perpetrators because the children, fathers and friends of so many families in the community were involved.

And when he died, they were afraid everywhere. In the city, many became agitated and did not know about the conspiracy. They armed themselves and went about most disturbed, with all the women and children, so that there was very great confusion. The crying of the women and children was great, so there was very great mourning. Thus they killed him who was their sovereign. And those who began already nearly slaves wanted to avenge themselves, desisted because it appeared to them that to do so would give evil, because if they would kill all the guilty, they would be killing someone’s children and someone’s fathers and friends. They would spill their blood in vain so long as they carried out such a remedy (51-52).

Subsequently Tlacomihua, who had cleverly nudged others to action without getting his own hands dirty, was finally able to maneuver himself into the kingship.

It was just possibly Tlacomihua whose desire was the secret killing. Then it is said that he became the noble on the throne of the rulership of Ococteluco. Although it was not that some who had agreed that the first ruler should die, they did not want this noble to rule, still in this manner many were able to follow him because many had participated in this manner conspiracy . . . And as his power was greater, he was able to shut their mouths. And thus he entered himself into the rulership (52).

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Faith Archaeology and the Book of Mormon

[From Rodney Stark, "The Basis of Mormon Success: A Theoretical Application," in James Duke, Latter-day Saint Social Life: Social Research on the LDS Church and its Members. Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1998, 45-46. Stark is a non-Mormon Sociologist).

Latter-day Saint liberals often concern themselves with conflicts between the Book of Mormon and archaeological research. . . . The basic problem for both Christian and Latter-day Saint liberals is that they inevitably project their inability to believe to everyone else. Latter-day Saint liberals worry about dis-confirmations of the Book of Mormon because they don't really believe this is an ancient and inspired scripture, but something composed, consciously, or otherwise, by Joseph Smith. Orthodox Saints, believing the Book to be the word of God, are not only able to accommodate some discrepancies, but fully expect archaeologists to find evidence in support of scripture, which is why the LDS Church has supported a considerable amount of New World archaeology. 

Interestingly enough, the orthodox have had some substantial successes. For example, John L. Sorenson (1985) devoted many years to constructing a map of the Book of Mormon. Working entirely with textual references, he located places in relation to one another (how long did it take to walk from Nephi to Zarahemla and in what direction?) and to the topography as described therein. This map turned out to be a remarkable fit for the area surrounding the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Southern Mexico and Northern Guatemala.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Faith and the Truth of the Book of Mormon

From Bruce R. McConkie, "What Think Ye of the Book of Mormon?" Ensign (November 1983)

Two ministers of one of the largest and most powerful Protestant denominations came to a Latter-day Saint conference to hear me preach. After the meeting I had a private conversation with them, in which I said they could each gain a testimony that Joseph Smith was the prophet through whom the Lord had restored the fulness of the gospel for our day and for our time. I told them they should read the Book of Mormon, ponder its great and eternal truths, and pray to the Father in the name of Christ, in faith, and he would reveal the truth of the book to them by the power of the Holy Ghost. . . . All of this I explained to my two Protestant friends. One of them, a congenial and decent sort of fellow, said somewhat casually that he would read the Book of Mormon. The other minister, manifesting a bitter spirit, said: “I won’t read it. We have experts who have read the Book of Mormon, and I have read what our experts have to say about it.” This account dramatizes one of our problems in presenting the message of the Book of Mormon to the world. There are sincere and devout people everywhere who have heard what other people say about this volume of holy writ, and so they do not read it themselves. . . .

Shortly after my experience with these two ministers, two other ministers from the same denomination came to another of our conferences to hear me preach. And, once again, after the meeting I had a private discussion with them. My message was the same. Taking the Book of Mormon as their guide, they must read, ponder, and pray in order to gain a witness from the Spirit as to the truth and divinity of this great latter-day work. I told them of my prior experience with their two colleagues and how one of them had refused to read the Book of Mormon, saying that they had experts who had read the book and he had read what their experts had said. I then said, “What is it going to take to get you gentlemen to read the Book of Mormon and find out for yourselves what is involved, rather than relying on the views of your experts?”

One of these ministers, holding my copy of the Book of Mormon in his hands, let the pages flip past his eyes in a matter of seconds. As he did so, he said, “Oh, I’ve read the Book of Mormon." I had a momentary flash of spiritual insight that let me know that his reading had been about as extensive as the way he had just flipped the pages. In his reading he had done no more than scan a few of the headings and read an isolated verse or two.

A lovely young lady, a convert to the Church whose father was a minister of the same denomination as my four Protestant friends, was listening to my conversation with the second two. At this point she spoke up and said, “But Reverend, you have to pray about it.”

He replied, “Oh, I prayed about it. I said, ‘O God, if the Book of Mormon is true, strike me dead’; and here I am.”

My unspoken impulse was to give this rejoinder: “But Reverend, you have to pray in faith!”

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Priesthood

It would probably come as a surprise to most members of the Church to learn that the term priesthood, as such, never occurs in the Book of Mormon. The word priesthood appears eight times in the Book of Mormon, all in the book of Alma, and always preceded by the adjective high. The Book of Mormon term is therefore not priesthood, but high priesthood.

All the uses of the term high priesthood save one occur in the thirteenth chapter of Alma. The exceptional occurrence, in the fourth chapter is interesting because it actually defines what Alma means by the term high priesthood. In Alma 4:20, it states: “Alma delivered up the judgment seat to Nephihah, and confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God.” Earlier in the chapter it states that “Alma did not grant unto him [Nephihah] the office of being high priest over the church, but he retained the office of high priest unto himself; but he delivered the judgment-seat unto Nephihah” (Alma 4:18). For Alma, the term high priesthood means the office of being high priest over the church.

Thus men prepared from the foundation of the world were “called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the” office of high priest over the church (Alma 13:6). And this office of high priest over the church was "after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world." (Alma 13:7). High priests "were ordained after this manner—being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the" office of being high priest "of the holy order" (Alma 13:8). In sum:

Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish;

Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.

Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God. (Alma 13:10–12)
In the Book of Mormon, high priest was a special office. We first hear of the office when Alma founds the church in the land of Helam (Mosiah 23:16). The office is passed to his son, Alma (Mosiah 29:42). We originally read of only one high priest, but then Alma claims that he is "a high priest over the church of God" (Alma 5:3). But perhaps he is referring to high priests chronologically as a bit later he is "the high priest over the church of God throughout the land" (Alma 8:23), and was acknowledged as such:
we know that thou art high priest over the church which thou hast established in many parts of the land, according to your tradition; and we are not of thy church, and we do not believe in such foolish traditions. (Alma 8:11).
Some time later, we hear of other high priests:
they took him, and bound him, and carried him before Ammon, who was a high priest over that people.

And it came to pass that he caused that he should be carried out of the land. And he came over into the land of Gideon, and began to preach unto them also; and here he did not have much success, for he was taken and bound and carried before the high priest, and also the chief judge over the land. (Alma 30:20–21)
After 3 Nephi 6:22 we hear no more of high priests. After the coming of Christ they disappear and the church seems to be led by "disciples" rather than high priests.

Thus the high priesthood was a specific office used for at least a century among the Nephites.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Names Sam and Josh (Howlers # 17 and 18)

One of his brothers was a real Yankee–Sam! Well done, Prophet Smith; you can’t get rid of your Jonathanisms. Sam indeed! Fie, Joseph, how you forget yourself. Can’t you forge better than this? Precious little of Yankee wit, have you in your composition, to let a Yankeeism creep into the ancient `Book of Nephi’ in this manner. . . . `Sam, Josh, and Gid.’ . . . .There’s Yankee for ye. Rather out of place, however, in ancient writings . . . . Sam, Josh, and Gid, are half names, or Jonathanisms.

Origen Bachelor, Mormonism Exposed, Internally and Externally (New York: 1838), 11, 14.

Here is a boy six hundred years before Christ who has the unmistakable Yankee nickname for Samuel. There is certainly nothing Hebraistic about this name, nor does it sound like any Egyptian name we ever heard.

M. T. Lamb, The Golden Bible (1887), 218.

This name Sam, by the way, sounds very modern.

Edgar E. Folk, The Mormon Monster, or the Story of Mormonism (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1900), 186.

No Hebrew named his child "Sam" (v. 5). "Sam" is an American name, but not a Hebrew name.

Marvin Cowan, Mormon Claims Answered (1989), 39.

Both Sam and Josh are now known to be authentic Hebrew names attested in Hebrew inscriptions from before 587 B.C. only published in the last few decades. Both names are hypocoristic or abbreviated forms of Hebrew names which have dropped the theophoric element from the end (John Tvedtnes, John Gee and Matthew Roper, "Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/1 2000: 49-51. For more information on the names Sam, Josh and other Book of Mormon names researchers will want to consult the Willes Center's Onomasticon Project.

Consecrate Your Brain

From Neal A Maxwell, "Discipleship and Scholarship," BYU Studies 32/3 (1992): 8.

There is no lasting place in the Kingdom for unanchored and unconsecrated brilliance.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ezra Taft Benson on the Book of Mormon

From Ezra Taft Benson, "The Book of Mormon--The Keystone of Our Religion," Ensign (November 1986): 7.

Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of the Book of Mormon a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built upon the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ezra Taft Benson on the Book of Mormon

From Ezra Taft Benson, "The Book of Mormon: The Keystone of Our Religion," Ensign (November 1986): 7.

It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. it is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that too. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find power to avoid deception. You will find power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called "the words of life" (see D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sheum (Howlers # 16)

"Neas" and "sheum." Pray tell me what kinds of grain neas and sheum are. Joseph Smith's translation needs another translation, to render it intelligible.

Origen Bacheler, Mormonism Exposed (1838), 14.

The Book of Mormon mentions sheum as one of several crops cultivated by the people of Zeniff during the second century B.C. (Mosiah 9:9). While this term is not found in the Bible, it is an attested Akkadian cereal name dating to the third millennium B.C. (Jean Bottero, Elena Cassin and Jean Vercoutter, eds., The Near East: The Early Civilizations. New York: Delacorte Press, 1967, 63; Robert F. Smith, "Some `Neologisms' from the Mormon Canon." In Conference on the Language of the Mormons. Provo: Brigham Young University Lanaguage Research Center, 1973, 66).

Use of this ancient Akkadian term in the Book of Mormon is significant, since the Jaredite colony may have come from Mesopotamia at approximately the same time (Ether 1:33). The term would have been unknown to the translator of the Book of Mormon, however, since Akkadian could not be read until decades after the Book of Mormon was published (Ernst Doblhofer, Voices in Stone: The Decipherment of Ancient Scripts and Writings. New York: Collier Books, 1971, 121-148; Cyrus H. Gordon, Forgotten Scripts: Their Ongoing Discovery and Decipherment. New York: Dorset Press, 1987, 55-85).

The reference to sheum in an agricultural context in the Book of Mormon constitutes a significant piece of evidence supporting the antiquity of the Book of Mormon. "It is a well known fact," writes Professor Hildegard Lewy, a specialist in ancient Assyrian and Babylonian [Akkadian] languages, "that the name of plants and particularly of [grains] are applied in various languages and dialects to different species." Lewy notes that this often poses a challenge in interpreting references to Assyrian cereals in ancient near Eastern documents.  When doing so, "the meaning of these Old Assyrian terms must be inferred from the Old Assyrian texts alone without regard to their signification in sources from Babylonia and other regions adjacent to Assyria" (Hildegard Lewy, "Some old Assyrian cereal names," Journal of the American Oriental Society 76/4 October--December 1956: 201).

Other Assyriologists have observed that the ancient Assyrian term sheum was used at various times to refer to barley, grains generally, and even pine nuts (The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Edited by John A. Brinkman, et. al. Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1992, 17, part 2: 345-55). Since sheum in the Book of Mormon account is mentioned in addition to barley and wheat, the term was likely used by Book of Mormon peoples to refer to some other new world crop of which there are a variety of possible candidates.

For more information on sheum and neas see the Willes Center's Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project.

Individuality and Consecration

From Neal A. Maxwell, "Discipleship and Scholarship," BYU Studies 32/3 (1992): 7-8.

Jesus allowed his will to be "swallowed up" in the will of the Father . . . . Some presume we will lose our identity if we are totally "swallowed up." Of course, our individuality is actually enhanced by submissiveness and by righteousness. It is sin that grinds us down to sameness--to a monotonous single plane.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Book of Mormon Word Usage: Repair

Among the more constructive uses for words in the Book of Mormon is the use of the word repair. The word occurs six times in the Book of Mormon, but one has been accidentally deleted from recent editions.

Twice the word repair is used to refer to physical construction. Thus Zeniff and his people
began to build buildings, and to repair the walls of the city (Mosiah 9:8).
Likewise, before the destruction in Third Nephi,
there were many cities built anew, and there were many old cities repaired. (3 Nephi 6:7).
But the term repair was more often used in the Book of Mormon in a metaphorical sense. Thus the sons of Mosiah, after their conversion,
traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them. (Mosiah 27:35)
This repair was part of the repentance process. The sons of Mosiah strove to repair the injuries they had inflicted by confessing their sins, publishing all the things they had seen including the appearance of an angel, and explaining the scriptures to anyone who wanted to hear them.

So also the Lamanites converted by the sons of Mosiah vowed:
If the Lord saith unto us go, we will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves until we repair unto them the many murders and sins which we have committed against them. (Alma 27:8)
Becoming slaves turned out not to be an option so it is not clear how much time one would have to be a slave in order to repair a murder, but the converted Lamanites seem to have thought that even if it took the rest of their lives, that restitution was in order.

Later in the Book of Mormon account
many of those dissenters who had gone over from the Nephites . . . came forth and did confess their sins and were baptized unto repentance, and immediately returned to the Nephites to endeavor to repair unto them the wrongs which they had done. (Helaman 5:17)
Repairing is thus part of repentance. Like the physical instances of repairing, it requires fixing the problems created by the actions and returning things to their proper function. It is also interesting that repairing wrongs is something that repentant souls "strive" or "endeavor" to do or are considered at least hypothetically. It is not clear that mortals are fully capable of repairing their wrongs, but they ultimately must try to do so.

The last instance of repair in the Book of Mormon fits these latter usages. Royal Skousen has already told the story of how the word was deleted through a copying error. The 1830 edition had retain instead of repair by mistake. Since the word made no sense, it was dropped. Here it is in its original context:
Therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities; That ye turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly; but rather return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and repair that wrong which ye have done. (Alma 39:12–13)
Here Alma outlines steps of repentance for his son:
  • Refrain from repeating his sins.
  • Turn to the Lord.
  • Do not encourage others to commit iniquity.
  • Acknowledge his faults.
  • Repair the wrong done.
These procedures constitute the repentance that Alma's son must do. Acknowledging his faults and repairing the wrong are essential requirements in repentance. Like the walls of a city, failure to repair the damage done is incomplete repentance and leaves the soul in a weak position.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Prophetic Promise on the Book of Mormon

From Ezra Taft Benson, "A Sacred Responsibility," Ensign (May 1986): 78

I bless you with increased understanding of the Book of Mormon. I promise you that from this time forward, if we will daily sup from its pages and abide by its precepts, God will pour out upon every child of Zion and the Church a blessing hitherto unknown--and we will plead to the Lord that he will begin to lift the condemnation, the scourge and judgement. Of this I bear solemn witness.

The Name Alma (Howlers # 15)

Alma is supposed to be a prophet of God and of Jewish ancestry in the Book of Mormon. In Hebrew Alma means a betrothed virgin maiden–hardly a fitting name for a man.

        Walter Martin, The Maze of Mormonism (1978), 327.

It reminds us of the “Boy Named Sue.”

        John L Smith, “That Man Alma,” Utah Evangel (April 1986), 2

Hugh Nibley was the first to observe that the name Alma appears in a land deed dating to the time of the Bar Kochba Rebellion in in Judea, 132-135 A.D. (Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, 1988, 281-82). The document is part of a larger collection of letters discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea in 1961 by Israelit archaeologist Yigael Yadin. The deed mentions an individual named "Alma son of Yehudah." (Yigael Yadin, Bar Kochba: The Rediscovery of the Legendary Hero of the Last Jewish Revolt Against Imperial Rome. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971, 176).

The document written on a long sheet of papyrus translated by Yadin reads:

On the twenty-eighth of Marheshvan, the third year of Shimeon bar Kosiba, President of Israel; at En-gedi. Of their own free will, on this day, do Eleazar son of Eleazar son of Hitta and Eleazer son of Shmuel, both of En-gedi, and Tehina son of Shimeon and Alma son of Yehudah, both of Luhith in the coastal district of `Agaltain, now residents of En-gedi, wish to divide up amongst themselves the places that they have leased from Yehonathan son of Mhnym the administrator of Shimeon ben Kosiba, President of Israel, at En-gedi (Bolded emphasis added).

The name appears for a second time in the same document as follows:

All is done and agreed on condition that the above four people will pay the dies of the lease of these places which they leased from Yehonathan son of Mhnym, as follows: Eleazar son of Eleazar Hitta and Eliezer son of Shmuel both will pay half of the money [the previous agreed amount] less sixteen dinars, which are four Sela'im only; while Tehina son of Shimeon and Alma son of Yehudah will pay half of the above money plus sixteen dinars, which are four Sela'im (Bolded emphasis added).

The name also is now attested cuneiform tablets found at the archaeological site of Ebla in Syria from the late third millennium B.C. For more information on the name Alma and its likely etymology, researchers will benefit from the Willes Center's Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ezra Taft Benson on the Book of Mormon

From Ezra Taft Benson, "The Book of Mormon--The Keystone of Our Religion," Ensign (November 1986): 7.

I feel certain that if in our homes, parents will read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, both by themselves and with their children, the spirit of that great book will come to permeate their homes and all who dwell therein. The spirit of reverence will increase; mutual respect and consideration for each other will grow. The spirit of contention will depart. Parents will counsel with their children in greater love and wisdom. Children will be more responsive and submissive to the counsel of their parents. Righteousness will increase. Faith, hope and charity--the pure love of Christ will abound in our homes and lives, bringing in their wake peace, joy and happiness.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Strange Things Strangely Told: The Decapitation of Shiz (Howlers # 14)

This Shiz must have been an extraordinary fellow, and it is a pity he did not in return cut off Coriantumr's head; the narrative would then have been complete. Such however in sober seriousness, is a fair sample of the book which is alleged to have been dictated by the Holy Spirit of God.
          A Few Plain Words About Mormonism (1852), 10.

Considering that he had been decapitated, Shiz was very energetic!
         Weldon Langfield, The Truth About Mormonism (1991), 47.

Dr. M. Gary Hadfield is a Neuropathologist and an Emeritus Professor of pathology (neuropathology at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Sciences School of Medicine/Medical College of Virginia, Richmond Virginia, where he taught and practiced from 1970--2003. In 1993, Dr. Hadfield published a very interesting article in BYU Studies 33/2 (1993): 313-28, entitled "Neuropathology and the Scriptures." There he gives a medical assessment of the various scriptural accounts of sufferings and healings of different individuals, including the accounts of those of Christ's suffering which began in Gethsemane and culminated in his death on the cross. It is worth reading. Dr. Hadfield also has made an excellent contribution to Mormon Scholars Testify which can be accessed here along with his biographical information and documentation. Since it has direct bearing on the popular criticism of the Book of Mormon exemplified above, I include an extract from his comments here.

My own fascination with the brain’s structure impelled me to become a neuropathologist, a physician trained in morbid anatomy, one who deals with diseases of the nervous system in the laboratory. As a budding trainee, I was presented early on with the following intriguing case: A middle-aged man had undergone uncomplicated surgery for a routine hernia repair, but, while recovering, he strained forcefully to reestablish his urinary flow. The increase in blood pressure, thus produced, resulted in a brainstem hemorrhage. This left him with flexor rigidity (arms bent at the elbows and hands at the wrists. The lower extremities are likewise involved). Soon after this episode, he died. At autopsy, we found a ruptured aneurysm in a brainstem artery that accounted for his stroke. The bleeding had destroyed and compressed critical neural tissues that ultimately led to his death.

The brainstem connects the cerebrum (the brain proper) to the spinal cord. It is highly complex, because it contains major pathways leaving the brain, others returning to it from the body, and the nuclei and nerve fibers of several cranial nerves that serve the eye muscles, the facial muscles, the ears, and other important organs. It also serves as a center for vital functions that control heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, and it assumes several other important roles.

In fact, the brainstem is so vital to life, that it receives an extra rich supply of blood. This helps ensure survival of the individual even should the rest of one’s brain become severely damaged due to impaired blood flow. The patient may then live on in a vegetative, comatose state. So the brainstem’s hardiness becomes a mixed blessing.

But we had a dilemma on our hands: damage to the upper brainstem normally produces “extensor rigidity,” with the arms and legs outstretched, instead of “flexor rigidity.” The latter normally occurs following damage to the motor cortex in the cerebrum, not brainstem lesions. We have all witnessed flexor (decorticate) rigidity—in friends, family or strangers suffering cerebral damage from strokes. Most of us have also seen victims of cerebral palsy with flexor rigidity, apparent after birth, where there has been insufficient blood flow to the motor cortex during gestation and/or delivery. We feel pity and sorrow when viewing the paralyzed limbs of patients afflicted with flexor rigidity. In extreme cases, the arms, legs, hands, and feet are all curled up, distorted, and stiff. Extensor rigidity occurs more rarely, and most readers will not have encountered this condition firsthand.

My mentor, Dr. Harry Zimmerman, father of American neuropathology (at Montefiore Hospital and Albert Einstein School of Medicine in the Bronx, the doctor who autopsied Einstein’s brain), referred me to Dr. Fred Mettler, neuroanatomist at Columbia University (Manhattan), to solve the apparent dichotomy between the clinical findings and the neuropathology of this rare case. Together with Daniel Sax, the neurologist on the case, we published an explanation for this atypical picture.

I feel it was Providential to be assigned this case. It forced me to study the anatomy and physiology of the brainstem in depth, one of the most intricate and involved parts of the nervous system. In an already esoteric field, I may be one of the few Mormon neuropathologists, if not the only one. So when I read again the story of Shiz in the Book of Mormon, alarm bells went off.

“…when they had all fallen by the sword, save it were Coriantumr and Shiz, behold Shiz had fainted with the loss of blood. And it came to pass that when Coriantumr had leaned upon his sword, that he rested a little, he smote off the head of Shiz. And it came to pass that after he had smitten off the head of Shiz, that Shiz raised up on his hands and fell: and after that he had struggled for breath, he died. And it came to pass that Coriantumr fell to the earth, and became as if he had no life” (Ether 15:30-31).

Critics of the Book of Mormon have had a field day laughing at this “absurd” account. The event obviously astonished both Ether and Mormon, who chronicled it. Mormon had served as the commanding officer of huge armies for three score years, and had witnessed wholesale slaughter on the battlefield. Head injuries must have been rampant. But he singled out this extraordinary occurrence to include in his abridgement. Perhaps Ether and Mormon had concluded that Shiz’s last- minute “pushup,” sans caput, was due to an unconquerable spirit, an unwillingness to die. This amazing event must have appeared supernatural to them.

But the account makes perfect anatomic sense. Coriantumr was exhausted, with barely enough strength left to dispatch his arch enemy, Shiz, commander of the opposing army. If Coriantumr’s stroke strayed through the base of Shiz’s skull—due to impaired control of his sword—instead of through the small of Shiz’s neck, it may well have cut through the upper brainstem, instead of severing the spinal cord. The resulting classic extensor rigidity would cause Shiz to raise up on his arms, then fall as he exsanguinated.

The blood pouring into his trachea would help enhance the eerie sound of “struggling for breath.” For just as brainstem reflex activity would force the extensor muscles in Shiz’s extremities to contract and elevate his frame, it would also cause his rib cage to expand and contract automatically, as it does in all of us when we are sleeping, or not trying to control our breathing, which is most of the time. This unconscious respiratory reflex is controlled by the lower brainstem.

“And it came to pass that after he had smitten off the head of Shiz, that Shiz raised up on his hands and fell: and after that he had struggled for breath, he died.” This single sentence, a simple footnote comment made in passing by ancient writers, stands dramatically apart in its own right, providing elegant scientific proof that the Book of Mormon is true. When I connected the dots raised by this statement with well known brain anatomy and physiology, I felt as if struck by lightning.

This fascinating evidence must confound even the most jaded and skeptical Book of Mormon critic. Why? Because in a single sentence, Ether has captured not only one, but two major reflex actions mediated by the brainstem. So if this were the only sentence in the Book of Mormon, it would provide ample proof that the book was true. For neither Ether (the author), nor Mormon (the abridger) nor Joseph Smith (the translator) knew anything about the brainstem or its physiology!

It was Sherrington who first described extensor (decerebrate) rigidity following brainstem lesions (6), some 68 years after the Book of Mormon was published. His classic experiments in cats and monkeys, and similar neurological findings identified in humans by several workers, all confirm that extensor rigidity remains the classic product of upper brainstem sectioning and damage (except in a few rare cases, like mine). And only “A half century ago, ideas about control of breathing were in their infancy, and serious investigation into the area had just begun,” which ultimately proved the brainstem to be the control center for respiration. This was about the time I was entering medical school.

I highlighted the case of Shiz in a work entitled “Neuropathology and the Scriptures,” published in BYU Studies. In this essay, I also discussed other cases of nervous system trauma and diseases reported in Holy Writ, principally the Old Testament.

At the end of my thirty-three-year career as a medical school professor of neuropathology, I decided to attend one last scientific conference: the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting in New Orleans, 2003. I had felt impressed to go at the last minute, though I had not submitted an abstract. Consider my wonder and surprise when I encountered a poster presentation, mounted by Canadian neuroscientists, which recounted the history of a French priest who had been guillotined some two centuries ago, but who got up and walked a few steps after losing his head. Just imagine the consternation and fear this produced in the spectators! This exotic case bolsters the account of Shiz, of coordinated muscular activity after decapitation, though the priest was obviously relying on spinal cord reflexes rather than brainstem control.

In a related vein, I fondly remember my Grandmother Hadfield’s chicken dinners, processed from beginning to end with her own hands. I watched her wring the hen’s neck, cut off its head, pluck the feathers, clean the bird and cut the meat up into frying pieces or smaller morsels for “chicken and dumplings,” a “dish to die for” (pun intended). “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off” (aided by spinal reflexes) is something I have witnessed firsthand.

Though the incident of Shiz in the Book of Mormon helps confirm my faith in the volume’s veracity, it is only one of the overwhelming physical evidences of its truth (10). But the real witness emanates from the Holy Ghost, which witness I experienced before my academic career began, as a young missionary assigned to France. The direct answers I received in facing the challenges set before me, I find incontrovertible. Since then I have been guided by many signs and witnesses of a personal nature.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


From Hugh Nibley, The World and the Prophets (1987), 263-265

If the things of this world are all an empty show, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," what is important? The atonement of Jesus Christ—that is the one supreme reality of our life upon this earth! Men have forgotten about it, I grant you; it sounds strange and unfamiliar in our ears, this joyful news of the redemption—a technical jargon, the quaint survival of a solemn terminology from another day of simpler and more gullible souls, the laboring of a forced and unnatural situation, and so forth—if that is what the atonement has become to this generation, so much the worse for us. Atonement indeed! Of course it has no compelling application in modern life—we have fixed that. The vast and variegated stage setting of the modern world, like that of the ancient, with its impressive props and ingenious effects, is carefully designed to conceal the truth that men haven't the courage to face.

What are we afraid of? What do men fear most? Believe it or not, it is joy. Against joy, society erects its most massive bulwarks. The gospel is a message of terrifying joy. What is the culmination of all joy? To stand in the presence of God and behold his face—we don't need to argue that point. Yet what is the most frightening prospect that mortal man can imagine? Certainly, to stand in the presence of God and behold his face! The presence of Jesus was an unbearable torment to wicked men and devils alike; rather than look upon the face of the Lord, the wicked shall beg the rocks and the mountains to cover them; the Apostles who cheerfully faced death at the hands of devilish men were "sore afraid" at the approach of God the Father on the mountain; and when Moses descended from another mountain, the people fell down in deadly fear at the presence of one who had been talking face to face with God, though Moses himself at an earlier time had "hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God" (Exodus 3:6). It is not hell that men fear most, but heaven. Plainly the joy for which man was created is no light and trivial thing. It has more substance to it than all the rest of our existence. We live here, as many a philosopher has noted, in a shadow world of half-lights and unrealities. Everything in our society conspires to dampen and control joy. Our sordid little pleasures are carefully channeled and commercialized; our pitiful escapes to alcohol and drugs are a plain admission that we will not allow ourselves to have joy in our right senses. Only little children can face up to it—they have no hidden guilt to admonish cautious behavior or make joy appear unseemly. The kingdom of heaven is one of joy, and it is literally true that unless we are as little children we cannot possibly inherit it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Hugh Nibley on the Book of Mormon

From Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon (1989), 468

In my youth I thought the Book of Mormon was much too preoccupied with extreme situations, situations that had little bearing on the real world of everyday life and ordinary human affairs. What on earth could the total extermination of nations have to do with life in the enlightened modern world? Today no comment on that is necessary. Moroni gives it to us straight: This is the way it was before, and this is the way it is going to be again, unless there is a great repentance.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Physicality of the Small Plates

The small plates of Nephi were fashioned by Nephi thirty to forty years after he left Jerusalem (2 Nephi 5:28-34). They were fixed in size and number. They were passed down originally to “write the things of my soul” (2 Nephi 4:15), then to write “a few of the things which I considered to be most precious” (Jacob 1:2), and then “that our genealogy may be kept” (Jarom 1:1), or “to preserve our genealogy” (Omni 1:1).

As a physical artifact, the plates play a role in their writing. When Amaleki ends the record, the plates were full (Omni 1:30). In the English text the record just exceeds 142 pages. Although we do not know the original language of the plates or their original extent, the English will be roughly proportional. Nephi takes 116 ½ pages of the record, amounting to 82% of the record leaving 25 ½ pages. Jacob takes another 18 ½ pages, or 73% of the remainder leaving 7 pages. Enos takes another 3 pages or 43% of the remainder, leaving four pages. Jarom takes about 2 pages, about half of what is left. Omni, Amaron, Chemish, and Abinadom take minuscule amounts of text, leaving room for successive generations until Amaleki, who had no living children (Omni 1:25) and no way of conveying the plates to his only brother (Omni 1:30). Thus Amaleki had no more genealogy to preserve and more room left so he took the remainder of the space. All of this implies a physical object with limited space and a specific family situation.

We are often hard on Omni, Amaron, Chemish, and Abinadom, and sometimes even Jarom, for writing so little on the plates. We do not know their economic and technical situation and do not know if fashioning more plates was ever an option for them. They might have written more had they had the room, but they unselfishly saved some space for future generations until the line ended. Amaleki’s brief writings are definitely worth them saving the space.

Joseph Smith had a much less expensive and consequently more abundant writing surface to work with. He thus had no constraints if he were merely telling a story. If there were no physical constraints on the plates, there would have been no reason for the apocopated narrative.

Friday, July 12, 2013

New Article on the Book of Mormon

Stephen Ricks has published a new article on the composition of the family in Mosiah in Interpreter.

Naming in the Desert (Howlers # 13)

All the rivers and valleys he makes Lehi name with new names.
John Hyde Jr., Mormonism: Its Leaders and Designs (1857), 223.

From Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert (1988), 75-76.

By what right do these people rename streams and valleys to suit themselves? No westerner would tolerate such arrogance. But Lehi is not interested in western taste; he is following a good old Oriental custom. Among the laws "which no Bedouin would dream of transgressing," the first, according to Jennings-Bramley, is that "any water you may discover, either in your own territory or in the territory of another tribe, is named after you." So it happens that in Arabia a great wady (valley) will have different names at different points along its course, a respectable number of names being "all used for one and the same valley. . . . One and the same place may have several names, and the wadi running close to the same, or the mountain connected with it, will naturally be called differently by members of different clans," according to Canaan, who tells how the Arabs "often coin a new name for a locality for which they have never used a proper name, or whose name they do not know," the name given being usually that of some person. However, names thus bestowed by wandering tribesmen "are neither generally known or commonly used," so that we need not expect any of Lehi's place names to survive.

Speaking of the desert "below the Negeb proper," i.e., the general area of Lehi's first camp, Woolley and Lawrence report "peaks and ridges that have different names among the different Arab tribes, and from different sides," and of the nearby Tih Palmer says, "In every locality, each individual object, whether rock, mountain, ravine, or valley, has its appropriate name," while Raswan recalls how "miraculously each hill and dale bore a name." But how reliable are such names? Philby recounts a typical case: "Zayid and 'Ali seemed a little vague about the nomenclature of these parts, and it was only by the irritating process of continual questioning and sifting their often inconsistent and contradictory answers that I was able in the end to piece together the topography of the region." Farther east Cheesman ran into the same difficulty: "I pointed out that this was the third different hill to which he had given the same name. He knew that, was the reply, but that was how they named them."  The irresponsible custom of renaming everything on the spot seems to go back to the earliest times, and "probably, as often as not, the Israelites named for themselves their own camps, or unconsciously confounded a native name in their carelessness." Yet in spite of its undoubted antiquity, only the most recent explorers have commented on this strange practice, which seems to have escaped the notice of travelers until explorers in our own times started to make maps.

Even more whimsical and senseless to a westerner must appear the behavior of Lehi in naming a river after one son and its valley after another. But the Arabs don't think that way. In the Mahra country, for example, "as is commonly the case in these mountains, the water bears a different name from the wadi." Likewise we might suppose that after he had named the river after his first-born the location of the camp beside its waters would be given, as any westerner would give it, with reference to the river. Instead, the Book of Mormon follows the Arabic system of designating the camp not by the name of the river (which may easily dry up sometime), but by the name of the valley (1 Nephi 10:16; 16:6).


From Hugh Nibley, The World and the Prophets (1987), 266-267.

If the world is a dark and dreary place, it is because we prefer it that way, for there is nothing in the world that can keep a man from joy if joy is what he wants. Direct access to our Father in heaven through prayer is always open. But right there we draw back; as soon as we gain a distant glimpse of it, we are not so sure whether we want this joy. It is altogether too much for us to bear. We must learn by degrees to live with it. It is not strange that we are afraid of so great and overpowering a thing—that we are overawed by the feeling that all this is too good for us. The fact is that it is too good for us—much too good, and the message of the prophets and the Church to us here is that we must awake and prepare ourselves as good and faithful servants to enter into the joy of the Lord. We are not ready yet. It was the glory of the Lord shining round about them that made the shepherds sore afraid, so that the angel had to reassure them that he was bringing only joyful news, good tidings of great joy, for he had been sent to announce, as all the prophets have, the coming to earth of the Redeemer. That has been the joyful message of all the prophets. That we may come to support not the burden of great suffering, but the much greater impact of limitless joy is the purpose of our training here. "In the world ye shall have tribulation," says the Lord to his prophets, "but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world."

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bibliography Update

Our Book of Mormon Bibliography, though still very much a work in progress, has been given a major overhaul. It now sports a table of contents with working links to each of the sections. Some of the sections have been rearranged into a more logical order. We hope that this will make it more usable to those interested in doing research on the Book of Mormon.


From Alfred North Whitehead, in Charles P. Curtis, Jr., and Ferris Greenslet, comps., The Practical Cogitator, or the Thinker's Anthology (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1945), 112.

When I was a young man in the University of Cambridge, I was taught science and mathematics by brilliant men and I did well in them; since the turn of the century I have lived to see every one of the basic assumptions of both set aside; not, indeed, discarded, but of use as qualifying clauses instead of as major propositions; and all this in one life-span—the most fundamental assumptions of supposedly exact sciences set aside. And yet, in the face of that, the discoverers of the new hypotheses in science are declaring, "Now at last, we have certitude.”

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

No Fire and Raw Meat in the Desert (Howlers # 12)

It seems, with all their knowledge of the arts of the compass, they did not know enough to rub two pieces of wood or stone against each other to get fire.
Tyler Parsons, Mormon Fanaticism Exposed (1841), 11.

There was no lack of wood for fire in the wilderness, no lack of stones to smite together, but simply to prove to them that they are the Lord's special pets, he saves them the trouble of making fire by performing the prodigious miracle of making raw meat sweet and palatable.
         M. T. Lamb, The Golden Bible (1887), 61.

From Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert (1988), 63-67.

The Book of Mormon makes no mention of Lehi's people meeting any other party in their eight years of wandering. Casual meetings with stray families of Bedouins then as now would merit no special attention, but how were they able to avoid any important contacts for eight years and some 2500 miles of wandering?

One illuminating "aside" by Nephi explains everything. It was only after they reached the seashore, he says, that his people were able to make fires without danger, "for the Lord had not hitherto suffered that we should make much fire, as we journeyed in the wilderness; for he said: I will make thy food become sweet, that ye cook it not; and I will also be your light in the wilderness" (1 Nephi 17:12—13). That tells all. "I remember well," writes Bertram Thomas, "taking part in a discussion upon the unhealthiness of campfires by night; we discontinued them forthwith in spite of the bitter cold." Major Cheesman's guide would not even let him light a tiny lamp in order to jot down star readings, and they never dared build a fire on the open plain where it "would attract the attention of a prowling raiding party over long distances and invite a night attack." Once in a while in a favorably sheltered depression "we dared to build a fire that could not be seen from a higher spot," writes Raswan. That is, fires are not absolutely out of the question, but rare and risky—not much fire, was Lehi's rule. And fires in the daytime are almost as risky as at night: Palgrave tells how his party were forced, "lest the smoke of our fire should give notice to some distant rover, to content ourselves with dry dates," instead of cooked food.

So of course no fire means raw food. And what is one to do if one's diet is meat? "Throughout the Desert," writes Burckhardt, "when a sheep or goat is killed, the persons present often eat the liver and kidney raw, adding to it a little salt. Some Arabs of Yemen are said to eat raw not only those parts, but likewise whole slices of flesh; thus resembling the Abyssinians and the Druses of Libanon [sic], who frequently indulge in raw meat, the latter to my own certain knowledge." Nilus, writing fourteen centuries earlier, tells how the Bedouin of the Tih live on the flesh of wild animals, failing which "they slaughter a camel, one of their beasts of burden, and nourish themselves like animals from the raw meat," or else scorch the flesh quickly in a small fire to soften it sufficiently not to have to gnaw it "like dogs." Only too well does this state of things match the grim economy of Lehi: "They did suffer much for the want of food" (1 Nephi 16:19); "we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness" (1 Nephi 17:2).

All this bears out the conviction, supported both by modern experience and the evidence of archaeology, that Lehi was moving through a dangerous world. In ancient times Jewish merchants traveling through the desert fell so often into the hands of Bedouin raiders that by the beginning of the Christian era their word for "captor" normally meant simply "Arab"!  Arab inscriptions from Lehi's time show that "in the peninsula . . . there was constant unrest," even as in modern times. Ordinary times in the desert are bad times when, in the words of one of the oldest Arab poets, "the honored man did not dare stay in the open country, and flight did not save the coward." "A lonely life it is," writes Philby, ". . . a life of constant fear; . . . hunger is the rule of the desert." Hunger, danger, loneliness, fear—Lehi's people knew them all.

Just what was the danger? "The Arab tribes are in a state of almost perpetual war against each other. . . . To surprise the enemy by a sudden attack, and to plunder a camp, are chief objects of both parties."  "Raiding to them is the spice of life. . . . Might is right, and man ever walks in fear for his life and possessions." Lehi could ill afford to get embroiled in these perennial desert feuds, and yet he was everywhere a trespasser—the only way for him to stay out of trouble was to observe a rule which Thomas lays down for all travelers in the desert, even today: "An approaching party may be friend, but is always assumed to be foe." In the words of the ancient poet Zuhair, "He who travels should consider his friend an enemy." Nilus describes Bedouins on the march in the fifth century as possessed by the same jittery nervousness and unbearable tension that make the accounts of Cheesman, Philby, Thomas, Palgrave, Burckhardt, and the others such exciting reading: At the merest sign of an armed man, he says, his Bedu fled in alarm "as if seized by panic fear," and kept on fleeing, "for fear makes them exaggerate danger and causes them to imagine things far beyond reality, magnifying their dread in every instance."20 Just so their modern descendants "live always under the impression that an invasion is on the way, and every suspicious shadow or movement on the horizon calls their attention," according to the astute Baldensperger. This almost hysterical state of apprehension is actually a prime condition of survival in the desert: "A Bedawy never tells his name," says the writer just quoted, "nor his tribe, nor his business, nor the whereabouts of his people, even if he is in a friendly district. . . . They are and must be very cautious; . . . a word out of season may bring death and destruction." When the BanĂ„« Hila-l migrate, it is "under the darkness of the night, under the obscuring veil of the rain," bypassing settled places in darkness and in silence. What can better describe such a state of things than the Book of Mormon expression, "a lonesome and a solemn people" (Jacob 7:26)? Doughty said he had never met a "merry" man among the Arabs—and there is no humor in the Book of Mormon. This mood is hardly accidental: if the Hebrew gets his brooding qualities from his desert ancestors, why not the Lamanite?

Sir Richard Burton, one of the few individuals who has ever known both the American Indian and Bedouin Arab at first hand, was greatly impressed by their exact resemblance to each other, a resemblance so striking that he must warn his reader against attributing it to a common origin, explaining the perfect paralleling of temperament and behavior as due to "the almost absolute independence" of their way of life. Yet many equally independent tribesmen in other parts of the world in no way resemble these two. One of the writer's best friends is a venerable but enterprising Lebanese, who has spent many years both among the Bedouins of the desert and the Indians of New Mexico as a peddler and trader; he avers that there is absolutely no difference between the two races so far as manners and customs are concerned. Arabs now living in Utah who have had some contact with Indians in the West, affirm the same thing with considerable emphasis. It is a nice problem for the sociologist, and the writer only mentions it because it has been brought to his attention innumerable times. There may be something to it.

Lehi's party, as we have noted, were like the BanĂ„« Hila-l trespassers wherever they walked. Every inch of the desert is claimed by some tribe or other that will demand the life of a trespasser. "Marked boundaries do not exist, and it is natural that questions of ownership should be settled by fighting, which becomes an annual affair, while the looting of camels grows into a habit," according to Cheesman. Hence the need for extreme caution and strict avoidance on Lehi's part: "In most cases," says Jennings-Bramley, "Arabs do not think it prudent to allow the raiders near enough to decide whether they are friendly or not," and he describes a typical meeting in the desert: "Both we and they were doing our best not to be seen." Of course this sort of thing leads to comic situations, ignoble panic, and ridiculous anticlimaxes, but in a game of life and death one simply can't take chances, and Lehi was playing for the highest stakes. And so we are left with the picture of a wandering band sticking glumly to themselves for years on end, which, impossible as it seems to us, is a normal thing in the desert wastes, where the touchy, dangerous, unsocial Bedouin takes his stand as one of the most difficult, challenging, and fascinating creatures on earth.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


From Hugh Nibley, Temple and Cosmos (1992), 534.

“The Lord has often pushed the Saints into the water to make them swim; and when our indolence, which is nothing less than disobedience, gets us into a jam, he lets us stew in our own juice until we do something about it.”

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hugh Nibley on the Book of Mormon

From Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon (1989), 165-66.

The idea that the Book of Mormon was simply a product of its time may be a necessary fiction to explain it but it is fiction nonetheless. If they may be trusted in nothing else, the voluminous writings of the anti-Mormons stand as monumental evidence for one fact: that Mormonism and the Book of Mormon were in no way a product of the society in which they arose.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

An Odd Use of Language

Alma begins his talk to the people of Gideon saying something that seems, at first, rather strange:
Behold my beloved brethren, seeing that I have been permitted to come unto you, therefore I attempt to address you in my language (Alma 7:1)
Why does Alma use this expression? A little background makes some things a bit clearer. The people of Gideon were those who dwelt in the valley of Gideon:
the valley being called after that Gideon who was slain by the hand of Nehor with the sword (Alma 2:20).
and it was he who was an instrument in the hands of God in delivering the people of Limhi out of bondage. (Alma 1:8).
Alma himself, was the son of Alma who had been a priest of Noah, Limhi's father. So Alma and the people of Gideon had the same origin, but were only a generation later. So they would have spoken the same language. Alma, however, is attempting to address them in his language. It appears to have been rusty. So the people in Zarahemla, where Alma had previously been, must have spoken a different language and Alma must have grown accustomed to speaking in the language of Zarahemla, or whatever official language held the Nephite territories together.

This brings a different understanding to the original description of Alma as "a man of many words" (Mosiah 27:8).

It also brings up the possibility that if we had the originals of Alma 5 and 7 that they might not even be in the same language.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Mission of Angels

From Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon (1989), 549.

An angel is a messenger; when he visits he not only talks with people, he converses with them—that is the word used both in the Book of Mormon and in the Bible. The angels circulated among men, women, and especially the children and chatted with them. That is how they carry out their mission or ministry. Why don't we see angels? The people raise that question in the Book of Mormon, and the answer there is very clear. Angels do not pose as ornamental fixtures; they come only to deliver important messages and at moments of crisis. Throughout the Book of Mormon, when things reach a hopeless condition, it is the visit of an angel which moves things off dead center and invariably inaugurates a new turn of things. They appear only to specially qualified persons—men, women, and children—not high officials. But if angels do not come, we are left on our own resources in a perilous condition. How fortunate that the whole Book of Mormon story begins with Moroni, the clinically specific and detailed account of an angel's visit to Joseph!

Trouble With Snakes? (Howlers # 11 )

Can you imagine snakes on a cattle drive, humping along behind loping cattle? Can you imagine the snakes setting up guards to keep the people and cattle apart? . . . .Is this a real story or a fairy tale? 
        Charles Crane, The Bible and Mormon Scriptures Compared (1983), 29.

The Book of Mormon story claims that the Lord sent poisonous snakes that out-witted all the warriors who were well equipped with weapons of war

            “The Story Teller,” The Inner Circle, October 1987: [8].

The passage from the book of Ether reads as follows:

And it came to pass that there began to be a great dearth upon the land, and the inhabitants began to be destroyed exceedingly fast because of the dearth, for there was no rain upon the face of the earth.

And there came forth poisonous serpents also upon the face of the land, and did poison many people. And it came to pass that their flocks began to flee before the poisonous serpents, towards the land southward, which was called by the Nephites Zarahemla.
And it came to pass that there were many of them which did perish by the way; nevertheless, there were some which fled into the land southward.
And it came to pass that the Lord did cause the serpents that they should pursue them no more, but that they should hedge up the way that the people could not pass, that whoso should attempt to pass might fall by the poisonous serpents.
And it came to pass that the people did follow the course of the beasts, and did devour the carcasses of them which fell by the way, until they had devoured them all. Now when the people saw that they must perish they began to repent of their iniquities and cry unto the Lord (Ether 9:30-34).

A snake infestation at a key geographical location could be a particularly troublesome challenge even to a large and well-armed army. Hugh Nibley referenced an episode from one of the campaigns of the Roman general Pompey (Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, 1988, 221). The historian Plutarch related:

Pompey was eager to advance with his forces upon the Hyrcanian and Caspian Sea, but was forced to retreat at a distance of three days’ march from it by the number of venomous serpents, and so he retreated into Armenia (Plutarch, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, Translated by John Dryden. New York: Modern Library, 1979, 765).

In a time of drought, such as described in Ether 9:28-35, the snakes, like other animals would go where they could find food. John Tvedtnes provides an interesting perspective on this episode from the Book of Ether. The following was originally published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 6/1 (1997): 70-72

During my lengthy residence in Israel (1971–79), I had opportunity to visit the Musa Alami Farm near Jericho. The farm had been constructed after Israel’s 1948 War of Independence to settle displaced Palestinian refugees. It was particularly geared toward teaching various farm skills to Palestinian boys. During the 1950s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had equipped the farm with a dairy and a starter herd and had sent dairy experts to operate that portion of the farm.

Much of the farm was in disrepair during our visit because of the 1967 Six-Day War. Orange groves had died from lack of water, and most of the fields lay fallow. During the war, all but two of the pumps bringing underground water to the surface had been destroyed, making it impossible to maintain the farm at its previous level. Most of the refugees had fled across the Jordan River to the kingdom of Jordan. The Israelis had also expropriated all the land on the western bank of the river in order to maintain security patrols along the new border.

Of particular interest to me was the effect on local wildlife. When crops were no longer being grown near the river, the mice moved westward to find grains in the few fields still under cultivation. They were, naturally, followed by serpents. From time to time, residents of the farm found vipers in and around their houses. This, they assured us, had never happened before the war.

My thoughts turned to the story in Ether 9:30–33, where we read that the Jaredites were plagued by “poisonous serpents” during a time of “great dearth” when “there was no rain upon the face of the earth.” Their flocks fled southward from the serpents; some of the people also escaped in that direction, but the large number of serpents “hedge[d] up the way that the people could not pass.” After the people repented, the Lord sent rain, which ended the famine, producing “fruit in the north countries” (Ether 9:35).

Several generations after the famine, “in the days of Lib the poisonous serpents were destroyed. Wherefore they did go into the land southward, to hunt food for the people of the land, for the land was covered with animals of the forest” (Ether 10:19). It was at this time that the Jaredites set aside the land southward as a game preserve (see Ether 10:21). This suggests that much of the wildlife had perished during the dearth in the land northward.

We do not know by what means—whether miraculous, natural, or by the hand of man—the serpents were eliminated. It may be that they simply dispersed throughout the region as the dearth abated, following the rodents who, in turn, were following the regenerating plant life.

A similar tale is told of the Israelites during the period of the exodus from Egypt. Soon after arriving in the wilderness, where there was “no bread, neither . . . water,” they encountered poisonous serpents “and much people of Israel died.” In this case, however, the serpents were not destroyed; instead, the Lord provided a miraculous means for the healing of those who had been bitten (see Numbers 21:5–9; see Deuteronomy 8:15; 2 Kings 18:4; John 3:14–5; 1 Corinthians 10:9; 1 Nephi 17:41; 2 Nephi 25:20). Nor was this an instance of occasional drought, for the desert into which the Israelites fled was perpetually barren. For this reason, rodents, accompanied by their serpent predators, would have been more common at the oases that became the Israelite campsites.

In reflecting on the time when Israel wandered “in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness” (Deuteronomy 32:10), Moses again connected poisonous serpents with conditions of “hunger, and . . . burning heat” (Deuteronomy 32:24). Similarly, Jeremiah prophesied a time when there would be “no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade,” a time of war, when the people would flee into the cities for defense and the Lord would “send serpents . . . and they shall bite you” (Jeremiah 8:13–17). War often brought famine in the ancient Near East. Invading armies would consume local produce and capture foodstuffs and would often trample fields of grain during combat (compare Alma 3:2). Rodents in search of food would have migrated to the cities and been followed by the serpents.

I suspect that a similar problem would have existed among the Nephites who gathered all their animals and foodstuffs in the time of Lachoneus and Gidgiddoni, making it difficult for the invading Gadianton robber band to subsist (see 3 Nephi 4). From the Book of Mormon, we cannot know for sure if the Nephites had problems with serpents at this time, for, as Mormon wrote, “there had many things transpired which . . . cannot all be written in this book . . . but behold there are records which do contain all the proceedings of this people” (3 Nephi 5:8–9). What is certain, however, is that the story of the poisonous serpents which plagued the Jaredites has a ring of truth about it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hugh Nibley on the Book of Mormon

From Hugh Nibley, The World and the Prophets (1987), 214.

I have always thought in reading the Book of Mormon, "Woe to the generation that understands this book!" To our fathers, once the great persecutions ceased, the story of the Nephites and the Lamanites was something rather strange, unreal, and faraway—even to the point of being romantic. The last generation did not make much of the Book of Mormon. But now with every passing year this great and portentous story becomes more and more familiar and more frighteningly like our own.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Book of Mormon Thoughts

From Truman G. Madsen, “B.H. Roberts After Fifty Years: Still Witnessing for the Book of Mormon,” Ensign 13/12 (December 1983): 18.

Men under constraint of evidence are rationally obligated to recognize that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are at least credible. It remains for God, and God alone, to forge their light and power into the souls of men. Then the books may become instruments for meeting the Christ. And when one has been embraced by the King Himself and is feasting at the banquet table, do questions remain about the letter of introduction?

Irreantum and "Many Waters" (Howlers # 10)

"Irreantum, which being interpreted, is, many waters." . . . Proof of this, Mr. Nephi Mormon Moroni Rigdon Harris Cowdery Smith. Let us have the proof. Irreantum signifies a complete ass, nearer than anything else.

Origen Bacheler, Mormonism Exposed Internally and Externally (1838), 14

Nephi says "We beheld the sea, which we called Irreantum, which being interpreted, is many waters" (1 Nephi 17:5). Nephi's wording suggests that this may not have been a name from his native language. Years ago Hugh Nibley suggested a possible Egyptian derivation for the name (Since Cumorah, 1988, 171-72), but his proposal has not persuaded other Latter-day Saint linguists. More recently John Gee, Paul Hoskisson and Brian Hauglid have argued, that the name does make sense as a South Semitic name meaning "watering of completeness" or "watering of (super)abundance" which is consistent with Nephi's interpretation of the name.

For a more complete discussion, see the Book of Mormon Onomasticon entry.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book of Mormon Bibliography

We have posted a preliminary Book of Mormon Bibliography on another page of the blog. We are still in the process of making all the links live and bringing it up to date (it is taken from a bibliography compiled several years ago), but we hope this helps those interested in digging into Book of Mormon research.

What is the Book of Mormon?

From Boyd K. Packer, Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991), 280-282.

The Book of Mormon is often introduced as “a history of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent, the ancestors of the American Indians.” We have all seen missionaries about the world with street boards displaying pictures of American Indians or pyramids and other ruins in Latin America. That introduction does not reveal the contents of this sacred book any better than an introduction of the Bible as “a history of the ancient inhabitants of the Near East, the ancestors of the modern Israelites” would reveal its contents. The presentation of the Book of Mormon as a history of the ancestors of the American Indians is not a very compelling nor a very accurate introduction. When we introduce the Book of Mormon as such a history–and that is the way we generally introduce it–surely the investigator must be puzzled, even disappointed, when he begins to read it. Most do not find what they expect. Nor do they, in turn, expect what they find
. . . The Book of Mormon is not biographical, for not one character is fully drawn. Nor, in a strict sense, is it a history. While it chronicles a people for a thousand and twenty-one years and contains the record of an earlier people, it is in fact not a history of a people. It is the saga of a message, a testament.

Monday, July 1, 2013

“Exceedingly Expert in the Working of Cement” (Howlers # 9)

“When I was a young married man,” recalled President Heber J. Grant in 1929, “another young man who had received a doctor’s degree ridiculed me for believing in the Book of Mormon. He said he could point out two lies in that book. One was that people had built their homes out of cement and that they were very skillful in the use of cement. He said there had never been found and never would be found, a house built of cement by the ancient inhabitants of this country, because the people in that early age knew nothing about cement. He said that should be enough to make one disbelieve the book. I said: `That does not affect my faith one particle. I read the Book of Mormon prayerfully and supplicated God for a testimony in my heart and soul of the divinity of it, and I have accepted it and believe it with all my heart.’ I also said to him, `If my children not find cement houses, I expect that my grandchildren will.’ He said, well what is the good of talking to a fool like that.”
                                       Heber J. Grant, Conference Report, April 1929, 129.

What I find significant about Book of Mormon references to pre-Columbian cement (Helaman 3:3-12) is not that it existed in the Americas (some nineteenth century sources do reference this), but rather the level of skill involved in that technology. The people, Mormon affirms, “became “exceedingly expert” in this technology (Helaman 3:7). The other significant point is the reference to its introduction among a particular group of people more than two thousand years ago. Both of these points find substantial confirmation archaeologically. The following initially appeared as a FARMS Update in May 1991 based on research by Matthew G. Wells and John W. Welch and was subsequently published in Reexploring the Book of Mormon (1992), 212-14.

Helaman 3:7-11 reports that Nephite dissenters moved from the land of Zarahemla into the land northward and began building with cement. "The people . . . who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement," "all manner of their buildings," and many cities "both of wood and of cement." The Book of Mormon dates this significant technological advance to the year 46 B.C.

Recent research shows that cement was in fact extensively used in Mesoamerica beginning largely at this time. One of the most notable uses of cement is in the temple complex at Teotihuacan, north of present-day Mexico City. According to David S. Hyman, the structural use of cement appears suddenly in the archaeological record. Its earliest sample "is a fully developed product." The cement floor slabs at this site "were remarkably high in structural quality." Although exposed to the elements for nearly two thousand years, they still "exceed many present-day building code requirements" (David S. Hyman, A Study of the Calcareous Cements in Prehispanic Mesoamerican Building Construction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1970), ii, sect. 6, p. 7).

After its discovery, cement was used at many sites in the Valley of Mexico and in the Maya regions of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. It was used in the construction of buildings at such sites as Cerro de Texcotzingo, Tula, Palenque, Tikal, Copan, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza. Further, the use of cement "is a Maya habit, absent from non-Maya examples of corbelled vaulting from the south-eastern United States to southern South America" (George Kubler, The Art and Architecture of Ancient America. Baltimore: Penguin, 1975, 201, italics added).

Mesoamerican cement was almost exclusively lime cement. The limestone was purified on a "cylindrical pile of timber, which requires a vast amount of labor to cut and considerable skill to construct in such a way that combustion of the stone and wood is complete and a minimum of impurities remains in the product" (Tatiana Proskouriakoff, An Album of Maya Architecture. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963, xv). The fact that very little carbon is found in this cement "attests to the ability of these ancient peoples" (Hyman, A Study of Calcareous Cements, sect. 6, p. 5).

John Sorenson further noted the expert sophistication in the use of cement at El Tajin, east of Mexico City, after Book of Mormon times. Cement roofs covered areas of seventy-five square meters! "Sometimes the builders filled a room with stones and mud, smoothed the surface on top to receive the concrete, then removed the interior fill when the [slab] on top had dried" (John Sorenson, “Digging into the Book of Mormon,” Ensign 14 October 1984: 19).

The presence of expert cement technology in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica is a remarkable archaeological fact, inviting much further research. Cement seems to take on significant roles in Mesoamerican architecture close to the time when the Book of Mormon says this development occurred. It is also a significant factor in locating the Book of Mormon lands of Zarahemla and Desolation, for Zarahemla must be south of areas where cement was used as early as the middle first century B.C. Until samples of cement are found outside of the southwest areas of North America, one may reasonably assume that Book of Mormon lands were not far south of the sites where ancient cement is found.